Q – Is getting drunk a mortal sin?
A – First of all, I will leave the judgment of any particular person’s culpability (guilt) to their confessor, because whether one has committed all that is needed for a mortal sin or not is for them to judge, not me. In other words, it isn’t my place to judge your particular circumstances. I will try and answer the question on an objective level as best as I can.
The Bible says the following about becoming drunk:
- Proverbs 23:19-35 tells us that becoming drunk is unwise and that we are not to do it.
- Proverbs 31:1-7 tells us that when we drink to excess we forget God’s laws.
- Ephesians 5:15-18 – “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
- Paul also tells us in Galatians 5 that drunkenness is one of the acts that lead us away from the Kingdom of God and it is compared as an opposite to the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
- Lastly, 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us that if we get drunk we are not prepared for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom at that time and we are then not acting as Sons of the Light, who are self-controlled.
Now, alcohol is not evil in and of itself, but the abuse of alcohol makes it serious (grave) matter, just as if we were to abuse something else that is good (e.g., eating too much). But, alcohol also has a second effect on us. It can cause us to lose control of our free will and reason when we drink to excess. Thus, it is possible to freely give away the gift of our freedom by abusing alcohol. If we ever choose to do this, it can be gravely immoral and a mortal sin. Thus, temperance (not too much or too little) is the virtue and goal we are aiming for.
Furthermore, the Catechism says this:
“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air” (2290)
So, to abuse alcohol is to sin against the virtue of temperance and to then endanger a life afterward would make the sin, objectively speaking, grave matter.
Does this mean that getting drunk is grave matter for anyone who drinks? It depends…(don’t you hate those answers.) Remember, to be a mortal sin, grave matter is one of three parts and all three must be met. The other two are full knowledge and full consent. Thus, if you know it is wrong to get drunk, you do it intentionally anyway – the chances are that you have sinned mortally. Why? Because you just gave the one thing that is truly your own away – your free will.
The other problem with getting drunk is that (apart from being unhealthy, which if done frequently could be sinful) it can lead you to the occasion of other sins. St. Thomas Aquinas talks about it in the Summa Theologica. He says that if a man knowingly gets drunk, it is grave matter. If you want to read his full take on it you can here.
My advice would be to discuss it during confession (mention if you have lost the use of reason or not). Also, my second bit of advice would be to have a personal cut-off point which can be different for everyone, although there is a point where everyone would have “too much”. So, don’t push the limits, but rather err on the safe side.
To give up the gift of free will is to sin gravely. If you do so intentionally, knowing that it is wrong, then it would be a mortal sin.
“The drunken man is a living corpse.”
-St. John Chrysostom